The New York Times journalist, John Tierney, is well known for his controversial writings through his career, like his 1996 article in which he wrote that recycling is a waste of American’s free time. He thrives on engaging readers in his articles, often through outrageous statements, but in a generation that has defined itself on working towards more efficient and eco-friendly life styles it is refreshing to know there are people who do not simply jump on the bandwagon. His recent article in The New York Times science section is not a far departure from his usual writings. Tierney spends this article questioning the efficiency of our modern “efficient technologies”. He starts out with the story of the “efficient” front loading machine washer that is quickly replacing old fashioned top loading washers because of its efficient use of water and energy. However, Tierney points out, the same features that make these washers environmentally friendly also makes them inefficient. They use less energy by using less warm water, but according to Tierney, this simply leaves the clothes as dirty coming out of the washer as when they were put in. This problem can be found throughout the energy efficient/ environmentally friendly/ green technologies on the market. He terms it as the energy rebound effect which is also known as the Jevons Paradox. “Some of the biggest rebound effects occur when new economic activity results from energy-efficient technologies that reduce the cost of making products like steel or generating electricity. In some cases, the overall result can be what’s called “backfire”: more energy use than would have occurred without the improved efficiency” (Tierney). So what is the solution to counteracting the Jevons Paradox? Tierney proposes that there should be more visible taxes on the public. The increase of taxes acts as a disincentive to engaging in excess economic activities. He closes the article by saying, “No matter what laws are enacted, people are going to find ways to use energy more efficiently — that’s the story of civilization. But don’t count on them using less energy, no matter how dirty their clothes get” (Tierney)
The case that Tierney presents is something that I have been in support of for a long time. “Eco-friendly” has become a pop culture phenomenon with fans who follow blindly. It is almost every few month the we see a new, more efficient vehicle, television, toaster or what have you, and I will confess, I am impressed with the levels of technology that have emerged in the past few years. However, there has not been a significant advancement in eco friendly behavior in America. One that truly promotes reduced overall consumption of goods. One prime example is the obsessions that people have developed with Apple products. Though they sell “green” technology, they also release new technology every few months. For those who like to be up to snuff with the new gadgets, they dump their old computers and gizmos and rush to the stores. However, I realize the sheer difficulty in accomplishing such a goal. Taxes are never a favorable addition to anyone’s pockets, and like Tierney said, politicians run away from any talk of increased taxes and take the easy eco friendly route to environment conservation. Like most things worth pursuing, there is no simple route, and it will take determination and commitment to balance the scales of eco technology’s impact on the environment.